Saturday, July 12, 2014

HENRY V and Agincourt, France

A language limitation joke resulted from my hashed French conversation with our last host Regis. I was asking him about Agincourt (the French name is Azincourt, hence his confusion about what I was talking about), and I tried to clarify by saying it was a battle site. He laughed and said I would have to be far more specific than that since almost everywhere in France throughout the centuries has been the site of battles.

THE SOMMES WW I, 1916, 1.2 million died in 5 month battle

A language limitation joke resulted from my hashed French conversation with our last host Regis. I was asking him about Agincourt (the French name is Azincourt, hence his confusion about what I was talking about), and I tried to clarify by saying it was a battle site. He laughed and said I would have to be far more specific than that since almost everywhere in France throughout the centuries has been the site of battles.

But the same could be said about most places on the planet. Wars and rumors of wars: it is the history of the world. Greed and ambition of the powerful few results in another generation sacrificing its 19-20 year olds in the field of battle. So it has been and persists in being in a badly broken world regardless of the creative and sophisticated ways we try to tell ourselves to just be nice to one another. 

I'm reflecting on this here in the somber valley of the Sommes in northern France where 100 years ago the "War to end all wars" was waged. It was a Great War, if greatness can be measured by body count and futility: opening day of the battle resulted in a horrific 60,000 casualties, average daily body count for the next five months, 5,600 souls. A Great War, the grand achievement of irreligious modernism, but a war that did not remotely end all wars. 

The scope of destruction and devastation is hard to fathom. Today we explored the twelve mile limestone network of tunnels at Wellington Quarry, dug by New Zeeland troops. 24,000 men were hidden in these tunnels, who then broke out on July 1, 1916, to the astonishment of unsuspecting German troops a few yards from the break out point. Initial victory was followed by a well-supplied reinforced German army; eventually only 800 of the original 24,000 men survived the conflict.

We paused at the St Vaast war cemetery where 44,800 Germans are buried. Then we stopped and gazed at the sea of stone markers at the Cabernet Rouge cemetery where nearly 8,000 allied soldiers are buried, more than half, "Known only to God." That is one of the unique and deeply troubling dimensions of this war, so many men were just obliterated, either their bodies never found in the mud and rubble and chaos of battle or there was no possible way of identifying the mangled human remains. 

After exploring the trenches and more underground passages at Vimy Ridge where Canadian troops took heavy losses valiantly driving back the Hun, we rounded out the day by gazing on 42,000 crosses marking the final earthly resting place of fallen French soldiers at Notre Dame de Lorette, national necropolis of France.

I feel numb. The scale of devistation is too much to take fully in. All this in a war that snuffed out the life of 10 million average age 20 year old young men. When I attempt to envision how many crosses or gravestones that would be my imagination is exhausted. I simply cannot or don't want to get an acurate picture of the loss in my mind. 

Then I am struck by the viralence of the irony. We war and hate, kill and destroy, why? Because we are intractable rebels against the God of love, life, and justice who created us. We think we're far better off on our own and resent his will and way. We think we can handle things better on our own. And then when we are forced to stare at the resulting destruction our devotion to secularism has caused, we cast about for someone else to blame; and so we turn around and point the finger at God and religion. We're certain that if people would just stop being so certain about their beliefs there'd be no more wars like this one--truly we're absolutely certain, beyond a doubt, about it all being God's fault and Those who believe in him. 

Such absolutist conclusions are ironic on many levels, not the least of which is that it was our devout devotion to Modernism that set the stage for this war to end all wars. Modernism said that we human beings could solve our problem by our economic strength, by our technology and scientific knowledge, by education, and by our military might. 

Modernism was a ticking time bomb that exploded in our face 100 years ago, 1914. And arguably nobody paid for the enormous miscalculation more than France. Following our will and way produces a wasteland. The way of the gospel of Jesus Christ alone restores all things to love, beauty, and peace. Come Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace!

Monday, July 7, 2014

HADRIAN'S WALL: day 7--last! 17 miles

Our final day and 17 miles lay ahead. Our guest house was closer to Wallend so it made sense for Cheryl to take us to our end point and to hike back west toward our last pick up point near Heddon-on-the-Wall. 
The last bit of real wall at Wallend.
Follow the acorns, though there are times when these are not as clear as they need to be. We managed with one stop at a farm house to verify that we were on route
The final miles are pretty rough through Newcastle, drug paraphernalia and rubbish littering the urban path, including shanty town squatters and gypsy settlements. But then as you pass trough the recovering downtown area there are tall ships and beautiful bridges and buildings.
Giles at Wesley Square where John preached in the open air to this needy city in the 18th century (needy again)
St Nicholas where John Knox preached against idolatry in 1551, two blocks from Hadrian's Wall route
We discovered this unofficial signage and were encouraged (though he meant you're not your)
Many pleasant encounters with encouraging animals along the route
Gillian joined us for our last mile and a half of 84 miles--a wonderful experience to have together. We could not have done it without ma tres belle Cher who drove back and forth on the narrow winding B6318 to drop us off and pick us up and resupply us with water and chocolate--and encouragement


Saturday, July 5, 2014

HADRIAN's WALL: day 6--our first really nasty weather

After saying our heart-felt and reluctant fair wells to our dear friends (32 folks in all) on the KNOX 500 tour we drove back to our last pick up point and recommenced our route march at just after midday. 
It was blustery with pretty strong winds from the west but no rain... Yet. Giles tried using his rain jacket as a sail.
The livestock seemed to know what was coming...
We stopped at the Robin Hood pub, more like a museum that serves food and drink, and Giles wanted (and needed) hot chocolate and a plate of chips.
Then it started, drizzle at first that turned to drenching rain, no let up
Giles remained in remarkably good spirits, but not long after commenting that he was disappointed not to have seen highland cattle in Scotland on the KNOX 500 tour, we ran into these big bruisers
And it rained harder, mud on our boots, and it got colder. The weather was slowing us down, and I began seriously to wonder if we could actually complete the 84 miles. We still had many miles to go, about 17 for our final day. Would my feet and old climbing injuries hold out? Could an 11year old keep up the grinding pace? And there was little evidence of Roman wall remaining... 

Our faithful support crew rescued us and took us off to a guest house, hot shower, and a good supper and bed. 17 miles to go for our last day. Could we do it?

Friday, July 4, 2014

KNOX 500: day 10-11C Falkirk Wheel and hamsters

What an amazing engineering feat! Scots really have contributed far above the preferred caricature of them as partially tamed barbarians
Sir Richard, Knight of Nottingham, is one of the ablest and pleasantest coach drivers in the entire UK (my fourth tour to lead with him at the helm)
Friendships forged that will endure
Dan Steere sharing his passion for training pastors in West Africa (he and his  dear wife Susan fly straight to Ghana from Scotland for three weeks of ministry with hundreds of church leaders)